The 2020 road season is back up and running, with Saturday’s Strade Bianche serving as the first major rendez-vous of the rebooted season. With almost an entire season of racing crammed into a mere four months, we’re expecting lots of excitement, with these 12 men most likely to provide it.
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck–Quick-Step)
Simply put: Alaphilippe is one of the most exciting riders in the sport, and his 2019 season was simply incredible. It began with a win in Italy’s Strade Bianche followed by a dominant performance in Milan-Sanremo. He then repeated his 2018 victory in Flèche Wallonne, took a break, then won the King of the Mountains classification and a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Then came the Tour and, well, the rest is history: two stage wins, 14 days in the yellow jersey, and a fifth-place overall finish. The only thing missing was a world championship title, but given the fact that this year’s Tour takes place right before worlds, Alaphilippe will have the best possible preparation.
Chris Froome (Team INEOS Grenadiers)
Froome looked poised to become the fifth rider to win five Tours de France last year, and then a horrific crash while warming-up for a time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné ended his season—and almost his career. But he’s healed and healthy now and looking to win another Tour de France for...someone. You may recall that INEOS fared pretty well in Froome’s absence last year with Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas finishing 1-2 in the Tour de France. Which is perhaps why it was announced earlier this summer that the Froome will be leaving the British team this coming offseason for Israel Start-Up Nation, the sport’s newest World Tour and a Tour de France debutant this year. Which leads one to wonder: will INEOS even bring Froome to the race? It’s a good question, one that should be answered in August when Froome finally has a chance to ride with (or against?) Bernal and Thomas. Stay tuned; this will get very interesting.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
Whether on a road bike, mountain bike, or cyclocross bike, van der Poel does it all. His exploits during last season’s spring Classics are the stuff of legend. First, he suffered a mechanical failure and crashed during a crucial phase late in the Tour of Flanders, seemingly knocking himself out of contention. But after a furious chase he re-joined the leading bunch and somehow managed to finish fourth—the same result he scored a week earlier at Ghent-Wevelgem. But the best was yet to come: at the Amstel Gold Race a week later, the young Dutchman again missed the winning move—or had he?
A searing counter-attack ensued—but this one caught the two leaders just before the finish line, taking them by surprise and netting van der Poel his first major one-day victory. This is a kid that has the skills to win every Classic on the calendar: Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo, Flanders, Paris-Roubaix...you name it.
Peter Sagan (BORA–hansgrohe)
Always one to watch–and definitely one who marches to the beat of his own drum–Sagan is skipping two of his favorites cobbled Classics (the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix) for a shot at winning the Points Classification at the Giro d’Italia in October. But the Slovak’s first order of business is finally winning Milan-Sanremo, a race that’s somehow eluded him throughout his storied career. And while skipping the cobbled Classics for the sake of a second Grand Tour might seem odd, we actually think it’s brilliant: riding two Grand Tours in two months will be fantastic preparation for next spring.
Nairo Quintana (Arkéa–Samsic)
Quintana left Movistar this past season for Arkéa-Samsic, a French Professional Continental team, in a move that had many of us scratching our heads and assuming that the Colombian simply followed the money. But then the 30-year-old started the 2020 season (pre-COVID) with a bang, winning the General Classification in two early season stage races and scoring a mountain stage victory in Paris-Nice. With the freedom to ride for himself on a team that’s seemingly all-in on its newest acquisition, Quintana will not have to worry about the inter-squad politics he dealt with at Movistar. With a mountainous Tour on tap for August, this could finally be the year that Quintana gets his Tour.
Egan Bernal (Team INEOS Grenadiers)
Speaking of Colombians, everyone seems to have forgotten that Egan Bernal won last year’s Tour de France. And he shows no sign of letting-up any time soon. He’s spent most of the year answering questions about the return of Froome, but he’s handled it all with a balance of diplomacy and the confidence that comes with knowing that he’s the future at INEOS. This year’s Tour couldn’t be more perfect for the 23-year-old, with lots of high elevation climbs and only one time trial. By the time this season is all said and done, we expect Bernal to have established himself firmly at the top of the INEOS hierarchy.
Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo)
Nibali is one of only two riders currently racing to have won all three Grand Tours (the other is Chris Froome). And after transferring to Trek-Segafredo (a move that had been in the cards for a long time) he’s hoping to add one more Tour of Italy victory to his resume. This season’s adjusted schedule might play into his favor as the Tour now comes before the Giro, which means more riders will likely restart their seasons with their eyes on the French Grand Tour while Nibali focuses exclusively on the Giro. If all goes as planned, “the Shark” will reward his new sponsors with a pink jersey this fall—and perhaps an Italian Classics or two in early-August.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma)
This Slovenian former ski jumper won last year’s Tour of Spain for Jumbo-Visma, a victory that confirmed the promise Roglič had shown over the previous two seasons. Unfortunately, despite his victory, Jumbo-Visma signed Tom Dumoulin anyway, a good move for the Dutch team but a bad one for Roglič. Despite the new addition, Roglič remains adamant that he’s a Tour de France favorite—even if he has to overcome his teammate in order to do it. One of the sports best all-rounders in that he can both climb and time trial with the best, we won’t be surprised if he does. And if he doesn’t, well, there’s always the Giro.
Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal)
Gilbert turned 38 in early July but shows no signs of slowing down. After spending the last three years with Quick Step—a period during which he won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix—the Belgian moved over to Lotto-Soudal, signing a three-year contract that will most likely be the last of his career. His first goal will be Milan-Sanremo in early August. If Gilbert wins the Italian Monument, it will make him only the fourth rider in history who has won all five one-day Monuments. Milan-Sanremo is always a crapshoot, but this year’s race features a newer, more challenging route and six-man teams, meaning it will be harder for the sprinters’ teams to control. This might be Gilbert’s best chance yet.
Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma)
After winning the Tour of Italy in 2017 and finishing second in both the Giro and the Tour in 2018, the Dutchman was hailed as the man most likely to end Team Sky/INEOS’s reign at the Tour de France. Unfortunately, he sustained a nasty knee injury in a crash early in last year’s Giro; and after his Sunweb team reportedly mishandled his recovery, Dumoulin left for Jumbo-Visma. He wants to win this year’s rescheduled Tour, but with Tour of Spain champ Roglič and last year’s third-place finisher Steven Kruijswijk lining-up beside him, he’ll have to earn the right to lead the team. We’re eager to see how he handles going from being his team’s undisputed captain to letting the road decide his team’s leadership hierarchy.
Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck–Quick-Step)
Belgium seems to find a way of sabotaging the careers of young riders by prematurely labelling them the “next Eddy Merckx.” But in the case of Remco Evenepoel, that might actually be the case. As a junior, Evenepoel tore it up, winning just about every race he entered including both world championship events—by large margins—in 2018. He then went straight to the pros, where he immediately started winning races–at age 19. This year he gets his first crack at a Grand Tour—October’s Tour of Italy—and we’re excited to see what he does. He’ll face stiff competition—and his Quick-Step team will struggle against the likes of INEOS and Jumbo-Visma—but if there’s one thing he’s taught everyone so far in his young career, never count him out.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
While hard to pronounce, Pogačar’s name should be familiar to many Americana fans after the Slovenian won last year’s Tour of California. Still only 21-years-old, he joins Bernal and Evenepoel as the hottest young talents in the sport. Last year he finally raced his first Grand Tour—the Tour of Spain—and didn’t waste any time in showing what he can do by scoring three stage wins, the Best Young Rider jersey, and third-place overall podium finish. He started 2020 in similar fashion, winning the Tour of Valencia and finishing second in the UAE Tour. The sky is certainly the limit for the youngster, who we expect will make his Tour debut this August.
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